William & Mary

Assessing State Fragility from a Human Security Perspective

The Office of the Secretary of Defense's Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment (SMA) division recently released a white volume on National Security Challenges: Insights from Social, Neurobiological, and Complexity Sciences. The volume includes a chapter by CCAPS researcher Cullen Hendrix on the use of a human security perspective to measure state fragility. Dr. Hendrix, assistant professor at the College of William and Mary, co-directs the Social Conflict in Africa Database (SCAD) with CCAPS researcher Idean Salehyan.

In his chapter, "A Population Centric View of Social, Political and Economic Indicators of a 'Fragile State,'" Dr. Hendrix argues human security is the foundation for state security and recommends the use of a population-centric approach to measure security instead of conventional measures of economic output and military capability. Three proposed indicators – human health and educational opportunities; gender equality; and civil liberties – relative to a country's wealth provide a better understanding of a population's security than economic or military data, according to Dr. Hendrix. In assessing performance on these metrics relative to a country's level of wealth, Dr. Hendrix developed a "bang for the buck" index.

"The security of the people – men and women alike – is a vital component of state security, and healthy, vibrant, and thriving societies are those most immune to extremist political ideologies," Dr. Hendrix writes in the paper.

The human security perspective defines security at the individual or group level instead of the state level and, as Dr. Hendrix states, "Defining security in terms of the individual, rather than the state, encourages investments in health care and education that promote long-term economic development and peace and stability – which are the ostensible goals of state security."

Using the "bang for the buck" approach, Dr. Hendrix finds that Equatorial Guinea, Chad, and Burkina Faso are the most fragile states. However, Dr. Hendrix finds also that several comparatively wealthy states, particularly the oil-rich states of the Arabian Peninsula, are more fragile than commonly used indicators, such as the Failed States Index, would indicate. Dr. Hendrix writes, "Some more capable states do more with less. Identifying the states that do less with more – provide worse outcomes than their income level would suggest – indicates a failed compact between state and society. These states cannot be viewed as strong, regardless of their economic affluence."

The complete SMA white volume is available here (pdf).

Dr. Cullen Hendrix is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the College of William and Mary and a Research Associate at the Centre for the Study of Civil War at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). He is also an Associate at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. Prior to joining the faculty at William and Mary, Dr. Hendrix was an Assistant Professor at the University of North Texas and a Research Fellow at the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation and at PRIO's Centre for the Study of Civil War. His current work focuses on the political and economic consequences of environmental degradation and climate change for peace, security, and stability in the developing world, with a particular emphasis on Africa. Dr. Hendrix received his PhD in Political Science from the University of California, San Diego.